Led Zeppelin Copyright Infringement Trial
For those of you who may or may not know, Led Zeppelin, one of the most influential and trend-setting rock bands in the history of music is currently on trial for copyright infringement. More specifically, they are being accused of lifting the opening of “Stairway to Heaven,” arguably their most iconic track of all-time from “Taurus” by Spirit, a late 60’s psychedelic rock group based out of Los Angeles.
For all the die-hard rock fans that have been waiting for a Led Zeppelin reunion, I’m certain that this was not what they were hoping for or envisioned, myself included.
Because the trial, “Michael Skidmore vs. Led Zeppelin et al.” is still currently ongoing, I feel I must reserve judgement. And considering my love for Led Zeppelin’s music and the sheer talent of the guitar prodigy known as Jimmy Page, it is personally hard for me to be unbiased.
Until now, it has been well-documented how the group intended to create a song that was constantly opening and unfolding. Starting from a very simple, haunting, almost medieval guitar riff that culminates with one of the greatest solos in the history of classic rock, “Stairway” is a masterpiece.
But I strongly believe that one must give credit when credit is due. Plagiarism is never an acceptable practice. Nobody gets a free pass and there are some very striking similarities and facts that have emerged throughout the course of these proceedings that cannot be overlooked.
Early in their career, Led Zeppelin had actually toured with Spirit, not as headliners but as a support band. During those performances, Spirit had “Taurus” on their set-list in 1969, two years before the release of “Stairway.”
The songs sound strikingly similar. The descending baseline, the picking pattern and the stylings are all very alike in tone. However, a major point brought up during this trial is that the baseline in question is an incredibly common progression. Bands ranging from the obscure to none other than The Beatles themselves have all used this similar progression.
Because I am no where near qualified to comment on the theory and technical prowess that is involved in the writing of these songs, I cannot discern what would technically be considered copyright infringement. What I can safely say is that it is clear that this is a very commonly used progression and that these two particular tracks sound incredibly similar.
And sadly, this is not the first accusation of copyright infringement against Led Zeppelin. There have been cases settled, and writing credits amended on quite a few Zeppelin tracks, most notably “Dazed and Confused.”
Whether or not the similarities between “Taurus” and “Stairway to Heaven” were intentional or subconscious is now up to the courts to decide. But I feel that as musicians and aspiring producers, it is important to take caution and follow the outcome of this case because we now live in the digital sampling era, where copyright infringement is a very real and damning accusation.
Always keep in mind while composing to be honest with your writing credits and follow all legal steps to ensure your work and the work of other artists are protected.
As stated earlier, one must give credit where credit is due. TJR music has an exceptional explanation and theory breakdown of these two songs and inspired me to write this blog post. It is definitely worth checking out and subscribing to his channel.
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Another interesting video is Jimmy Page explaining the origin of writing “Stairway to Heaven.”
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Lastly, Ive attached a video to show the similarities of these two songs and a few others in a play-back comparison.
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